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I've always been attracted to combo decks.
While I appreciate the strategic and tactical differences between aggro, midrange, and control, they all operate more or less on the same axis, and with the increased prominence of creatures over the last decade, the lines between them have blurred.
So Why Combo?
Combo decks often operate on a fundamentally different axis, which is why to some people they can often feel as though the pilot isn't playing the same game. For some that is a nuisance, but I've always found it interesting.
I think the frustration often arises from a feeling of helplessness when someone's deck isn't properly equipped to disrupt an opposing combo deck or their draw didn't come together in time. No one likes to feel like there's nothing they could've done and so non-interactive decks take some flak for engendering those feelings within their victims.
But combo decks don't seek to eliminate all interaction, or at least the vast majority of them don't. What they do is significantly narrow the range of interaction that is relevant. The most common way they do so is by being creatureless and thus blanking removal, but every successful combo deck makes some of the popular disruption in the metagame irrelevant.
On the surface, this effect would simplify the decision trees that combo pilots have to make, and in some games they do. When you see their hand has a bunch of irrelevant cards, you can execute the combo at your leisure, and regardless of what relevant disruption your opponent has, your gameplan remains unchanged.
But your opponent is working with that same knowledge, which is where things can get awkward and combo pilots need to get creative.
When your opponent is familiar with the inner workings of your deck, it becomes easier for them to disrupt it, and utilizing that information well is critical to winning with combo and winning against it.
For combo decks like Sneak and Show that rely on assembling a set number of specific pieces together, it's harder to gain an advantage on this axis. However, it's not impossible. The best Sneak and Show players will run out a superfluous Show and Tell without anything to cheat onto the battlefield in hand simply to bait a counterspell if they know they don't have much time to work with and need to utilize their mana every turn.
Still, the variety in combo execution is why I've tended to favor engine-based combo decks over those like Sneak and Show. Storm and Elves are both examples of such combo decks, so it's no surprise that I've played both for long periods of time.
- 1 Phyrexian Revoker
- 1 Spellskite
- 1 Dwynen's Elite
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 1 Elvish Champion
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 1 Selfless Spirit
- 3 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Both decks can win in a variety of different ways and you often need to utilize whatever hidden information you have to goad your opponent into using their disruption on spells that don't matter.
To demonstrate this in action, I want to go over an interesting turn I had last weekend at #SCGDC, in my Round 10 feature match against Brad Carpenter. The video for that match can be found here, timestamped to the beginning of the critical turn. You can also scroll to 56:12 in the video below.
A little background: I had spent much of the game with lots of mana cards in my hand, digging for an Infernal Tutor or other suitable payoff. I had a Cabal Therapy ready to strip Brad's Force of Will, which I saw from a previous discard spell, and I wasn't under much pressure, so all in all I felt good about my chances.
However, on his previous turn Brad drew Young Pyromancer and Pondered into a Cabal Therapy, thus generating two Elemental tokens and stripping me of my Lion's Eye Diamond and Cabal Therapy. I now have no access to red mana and no way to answer Brad's Force of Will and I only have three turns to assemble a kill.